New Delhi: MSD Pharmaceuticals Pvt. Ltd, a 100% Indian unit of New Jersey, US-based Merck & Co. Inc., is sprucing up its product portfolio and increasing its sales force fivefold as it tries to capture a bigger slice of the Rs34,000 crore domestic drug market.
The Indian arm of the drug maker is set to increase its marketing and field force from the current figure of 60 to 300 people by 2008; it will launch three new drugs this year and bring in two patented drugs— Januvia, a diabetes medicine, and cervical cancer drug Gardasil—from its international drug basket in 2008, said Murali Parthasarathy, business unit director for MSD.
He declined to forecast the impact these launches would have on the company’s sales, which was $2.5 million (Rs10.6 crore) in 2006, its second year of operations. GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals Ltd, the biggest foreign-owned drug maker in India, had revenues of nearly Rs1,650 crore in 2006.
MSD—short for Merck, Sharp & Dohme, the name by which Merck operates outside the US—also plans an India launch for the new drugs in its research pipeline that are currently undergoing the last stage of human trials globally.
The Merck unit, the youngest foreign-owned drug firm in India, is not the only overseas drug maker launching products in India. Foreign companies were earlier wary of launching drugs in India over worries on how their patents would be protected here but have begun testing waters after India agreed to uphold product patents.
GlaxoSmithKline plans to introduce four-five products in the anti-cancer, cardiovascular disease, and vaccines segments in the next two years. Novartis India Ltd, an arm of the Swiss Novartis AG, will be launching a similar number of drugs in the metabolic disorders, pain management, cardiology and oncology segments. Roche Scientific Co. (India) Pvt. Ltd recently launched Neulastim, a drug used by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, and Pfizer Ltd has launched drugs such as Viagra, Caduet, Lyrica and Vfend.
GSK and Novartis spokespersons declined to name the drugs the companies would launch.
The Indian market is becoming attractive to patent-holding drug firms, an industry expert said. “Even though side issues such as data protection, patenting of drug derivatives, pre- and post-grant (patent) oppositions remain, the larger feeling is that our patent system is on the right track and that is reassuring for these companies,” said Sujay Shetty, associate director at audit firm KPMG’s Mumbai offices.
Merck’s diabetes drug, Januvia is undergoing clinical trials in India, said Parthasarathy. And, “with one lakh women dying of cervical cancer in the country, we believe there is a need for drugs like Gardasil,” he said.
Both these drugs—launched globally last year and tipped to gross over $1 billion in worldwide annual revenues—might be sold in Indian markets in 2008. “We will gradually bring most of our drugs that are in the final stages of trials,” added Parthasarathy. Merck has around eight drugs in the last stage of trials.
MSD intends to launch three other drugs this year too—glycoma drug Cosopt, an antibiotic Invanz, and a vaccine for meningitis, Pneuvax.